An Appeal from NAACP and African-American Faith Leaders to Stop Violent Protests
As we watched the nation honor the memory of Congressman John Lewis, who spent a life in the righteous struggle for justice and equality, we also watched in horror as peaceful protests around the nation turned violent in Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, and Oakland. In all these cities, and more, we have seen peaceful marches demanding equality descend into the madness of violence. It saddens us deeply, especially in contrast to the life of Congressman John Lewis and what he stood for. All of us in the movement have a duty and responsibility to repudiate violence and call on those around us as we march to do the same.
It is not the vast majority of peaceful marchers who are causing this destruction. But there are many others who have a hand in it. There is provocation by anonymous federal agents, sent by a racist president whose incendiary rhetoric stokes the flames of hatred and violence. There is escalation by openly armed white supremacists and extremists who are determined to prevent change and preserve systemic racism. There is retaliation by anarchists who march not for justice but in a misguided efforts to demolish democracy’s foundation rather than build a better nation. There is exasperation by some progressives who believe change is too little and too slow and can be accelerated only by violence. There is frustration by those who see the police protecting the property of the wealthy while kneeling on the necks of the poor.
Yet, it does not matter from where the violence springs, because all violence is destructive – to people, to property, and most importantly, to our movement and everything it stands for. Our cause is the cause of justice, equality, dignity, and freedom. Our very foundation is non-violence. Yes, we are upset that we still must march, decades after the first civil rights marchers braved the clubs, dogs, and fire hoses of the South. Yes, we are frustrated that our nation continues to suffer from the legacy of slavery that has been woven into its fabric as systemic racism. Yes, we are not content to march and go home while injustice remains and in a nation where Black lives still do not matter. But if we are true to the cause, we will make our case forcefully yet peacefully.
We repudiate violence because it is a tool wielded by those who do not seek real and effective change. Violence will not and cannot build the nation we want. It can only demolish it. It will not move hearts and minds. It will only harden them against a just cause. And if we respond to violent provocations with violence, then we allow those who oppose us to discredit and destroy our movement.
To the police officers across the nation, we call on you to join in solidarity with those of us who march in non-violent protest. It should not be for a “wall of moms” to oppose armed white supremacists, nor should those sworn to serve and protect ally themselves with the federal agents sent to provoke.
To the progressives who see violence as a way to accelerate change, we tell you that it will only smear and misrepresent our cause. Together in non-violence, we are more powerful than violence can ever be.
To those anarchists would use our movement in a campaign to destroy democracy, we tell you that we reject you and your goals. You are not part of us, and we will not stand by your side.
To those racists and armed mobs that seek to escalate the violence, we tell you that you cannot succeed. Those who marched a generation ago in Birmingham, in Selma, in Montgomery, in Jackson, and in Little Rock were not intimidated. Neither will we give up the struggle.
To our brothers and sisters in the cause who are frustrated that we still march, we say be strong, have courage, and look to men like Congressman John Lewis for inspiration and guidance. Ours is the just cause in the eyes of the world. With dedication, non-violence, and above all our votes in November, we will win!
*Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown, President, NAACP Branch; Pastor, Third Baptist Church of San Francisco
Abu Qadir Al-Amin, Imam SF Muslim Community Center
Rev. Sharon S. Cheek, Pastor, First AME Zion Church, San Francisco
Pastor Yul D. Dorn, Sr., Emanuel COGIC
George Jurand, Paradise Missionary Baptist Church
George Holland Sr., President, Oakland NAACP Branch
Pastor Keva L. McNeill, El Bethel Baptist Church, San Francisco
Rev. Jethroe Moore II, President NAACP San Jose/Silicon Valley Branch